Born in 1872 in San Francisco, Julia’s upbringing really shaped the foundation for her independence, pursuit of higher education, and, personally, the impression that women provide a platform for social means both inside and outside of the home.
As soon as she was of age, she enrolled at UC Berkeley and graduated with a degree in civil engineering as the only woman in her class. During her studies, one of her lecturers happened to be eccentric architect Bernard Maybeck, a man who gained great notoriety for his Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco among other very well known buildings.
Maybeck began mentoring Julia at his home and encouraged her to move to Paris to attend the Beaux-Arts school, his own Alma Mater. At that time, women were not allowed to attend the Beaux-Arts but the culture was changing and women’s rights organizations were a catalyst for Julia’s own roots in feminism. When she was finally admitted after 2 previous tries, she graduated with a prestigious certificate in architecture, marking her as the first woman to ever receive this honor from the Beaux-Arts.
As soon as Julia returned to San Francisco she hit the ground running, taking up employment with an architect tasked to build out the “Master Plan” for the UC Berkeley campus. If you’ve ever watched a show at the gorgeous Greek Theater in Berkeley, you were admiring Julia’s work all the while. As soon as she obtained her own architecture license, the first woman in California to do so, she opened her own firm. After a few notable projects and the 1906 earthquake, she had more projects than she knew what to do with.
Eventually, her success and notariety had garnered her a close rapport with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He first commissioned her for the LA Examiner building and, after several projects over the years, became his principal architect. She designed his Hearst Castle in San Simeon and a series of buildings to replicate a “Bavarian village” for his mother, Phoebe Hearst, in Mt. Shasta.
Through her relationship with Phoebe Hearst, also a feminist and philanthropist, she designed 5 of the YWCA buildings in Southern California. She also designed Mills College because, like her work with the YWCA, she was driven to support projects for the advancement of women.
Over the span of her 45-year career she designed over 700 buildings, finally being inducted into the California Hall of Fame by then Governor Schwarzenegger & First Lady Maria Shriver. Truly a fascinating woman.